That’s what a woman I know said, years ago, when I mentioned how upset I was to have lost a very dear cat.
“Oh yes, pets. Unconditional love and all that.”
Since I still remember the discussion now, decades later, clearly the rather dismissive remark disturbed me.
In part, because I respected her, it prompted self-reflection.
But the words never really quite seemed to fit my feelings, so it has rested in my memory as an unsolved problem.
Mulling it over more recently, I realized what the problem is.
It seems to me that a person who lives with and cares for pets does not do so expecting to receive unconditional love from them.
It just does not fit my experience
I can’t think of any of the bloggers I follow, most of whom often write about their beloved animals, who seems to be reveling in the pet’s boundless and uncritical affection.
I mean, sure they like us, perhaps even love us, but that isn’t really the focus of most of our attention.
Instead we joke about disapproving bunnies, and the unrealistic expectations of our felines.
And we discuss things like the new window seat we’ve installed for them, the discovery of a previously unknown cat intoxicant, the beret that matches their eyes….
Ad infinitum, all about the lengths that we happily go to in trying to give them the best lives possible.
Someone here is receiving unconditional love, but it isn’t the human partner in the relationship.
Instead, the bunnies, and cats, and horses, and hedgehogs – you name it – are the ones getting the unconditional love.
If human roommates were peeing on the floors, chewing on the sofas, or unexpectedly drawing blood, they would be Out of Here.
With our pets, though, we instead agonize over how to reshape the world to somehow adapt it better to their needs.
The non-human partners in these relationships are experiencing unconditional love, but what are the humans getting out of it?
What we gain from these relationships is the opportunity to provide our animals with our unconditional love.
And I think that’s a pretty fine thing that we get to do, and a wonderful gift that they give to us in allowing us to experience in our efforts to care for them.
And while I’ll put up with a fair amount of feline criticism for my heart’s choice, I’ll make no apologies to other people for it.